Russian warship wins shootout with Somali pirates, rescues sailors

A Russian warship rescued 23 Russian sailors at dawn today. The men were taken hostage Wednesday when their oil tanker was hijacked by Somali pirates.

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    In this April 6, 2003 file picture Russian anti-submarine ship Marshal Shaposhnikov of the Pacific Fleet, is ready to leave Vladivostok harbour in the Russian Far East, to head to the Indian Ocean. The Russian Defense Ministry says, the Russian anti-submarine destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov has freed the Moscow University, a Russian oil tanker that had been seized by pirates off the coast of Somalia on Thursday.
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The crew of a Russian warship engaged in a firefight with Somali pirates during a dawn raid on Thursday, and successfully released 23 seamen who had been taken hostage aboard an oil tanker a day earlier.

The vessel was hijacked Wednesday morning in the Gulf of Aden while it was en route from Sudan to China carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil worth $52 million.

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The raid against the Liberian-flagged tanker, the Moscow University, occurred after the crew locked themselves in the ship's rudder compartment, according to The New York Times.

IN PICTURES: Somali pirates

[Commander John Harbour, a spokesman for the European Union Naval Force] said a helicopter from the Russian destroyer, the Marshal Shaposhnikov, approached the tanker “and was fired upon by pirates.” The destroyer, knowing the merchant crew was locked down and safe, turned its guns onto the superstructure of the tanker as the pirates put up resistance. The Russian sailors offered a “robust” response, Commander Harbour said, and the pirates, thought to be from Somalia, eventually surrendered to a boarding party.

Ten pirates were detained aboard the tanker, reports the BBC. They will be transferred to Moscow to face trial. The entire crew of Moscow University emerged unscathed, though the BBC mentioned "unconfirmed reports" that one pirate was killed during this morning’s firefight.

Commander Harbour described the rescue as “an excellent operation all around,” reports the Associated Press. He said the EU Naval Force coordinated and worked at a "tactical level" with the Russian warship.

While the EU Naval Force is reportedly disrupting pirates and destroying their ships at a higher rate than in past years, this latest incident may be perceived as a setback.

The EU Naval Force has claimed that its anti-piracy measures are proving effective in the Gulf of Aden. And while there have been fewer attacks by Somali pirates during the first quarter of this year than during the same time period last year, the pirates are expanding their activities beyond the Gulf of Aden into the Indian Ocean, reports The Christian Science Monitor. Pirates are reportedly holding more than 20 foreign ships with almost 400 sailors.

Experts say that the solution to Somali piracy is not in European naval patrols, nor in armed security patrols on commercial ships, but in helping Somalis to create their first stable and credible government in 20 years. Lacking a government that can enforce the rule of law in Somali cities and ports, Somali pirates will continue to operate with impunity.

Obstacles to prosecuting captured pirates are harming anti-piracy efforts, according to the Wall Street Journal. Many pirates arrested in international waters have been sent to Kenya for trial in accordance agreements between Nairobi and American and European navies. But the Kenyan government recently refused to host the trials of more pirates.

The Journal adds:

The United Nations is trying to get different countries to share the legal burden. Last week, the United Nations Security Council signed a resolution urging countries to pass tougher antipiracy laws. The council said it would consider setting up some kind of international or regional tribunal reserved for piracy cases, as well as a place to jail convicts….

When there isn't enough evidence for a trial, or the apprehending navy isn't sure where to take them, the men are often returned to Somalia. The officials confiscate weapons, grappling hooks or other pirate tools. But because Somalia's central government is too weak to provide law enforcement, the men are free to return to piracy.

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IN PICTURES: Somali pirates

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